Five days after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced what he described as a “special military operation” into Ukraine, Anna Gabrielian sent an email from her work account offering assistance.
“My husband and I are both doctors,” Gabrielian, who was an anesthesiologist at Johns Hopkins Hospital, wrote to the Russian Embassy on March 1, 2022. “I am an anesthesiologist, he works in intensive care.”
“We are ready to help if there is a need for that,” she added. “We are for life, and we do not want to cut off Russia from the international community.”
Months later, Gabrielian was walking from a parking garage to the hospital when a woman approached her on the street. “Anna,” the stranger said in Russian, “Good morning.” She explained that she was following up on the previous offer for assistance.
So Gabrielian agreed to meet the woman after work at a hotel in Baltimore and arranged for her spouse, U.S. Army Maj. Jamie Lee Henry, a doctor who had been stationed at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, to join them. The couple later disclosed private medical records of people tied to the U.S. government and military to the woman — who turned out to be an undercover FBI special agent.
Gabrielian, 37, and Henry, 40, both of Rockville, are now standing trial this week in U.S. District Court in Baltimore on charges of conspiracy and wrongful disclosure of individually identifiable health information under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA. Federal prosecutors allege that the couple broke the law to help a foreign power. Meanwhile, their attorneys argue that the two were humanitarians who wanted to save lives but feared retribution from Russia if they did not acquiesce and provide some private medical records.
The government on Tuesday began presenting its case, which includes about five hours of undercover video. The press and public could only listen to an audio feed of the trial and see the exhibits on monitors in a separate room in the Edward A. Garmatz U.S. Courthouse.
“We’re here today because two doctors,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Aaron Zelinsky said in his opening statement, “conspired to provide private health records of their patients and others to the Russian government.”
“The defendants knew exactly what they were doing while they were doing it,” he added.
Gabrielian and Henry, he said, abused their positions as doctors and discussed cover stories, expressed concerns about going to prison and spoke of fleeing to Russia.
“But what the defendants didn’t know,” Zelinsky said, “was their plot was being caught on audio and videotape.”
Zelinsky walked the jury through the five times that one or both of the doctors met with the purported representative of the Russian government: Three meetings on Aug. 17, 2022, one on Aug. 24, 2022, and the last on Aug. 31, 2022.
During one of the meetings, Gabrielian talked about how the couple could be a “useful long-term weapon,” Zelinsky said.
But Christopher Mead, Gabrielian’s attorney, described his client as a “naive do-gooder” who was ensnared in a “profoundly unfair” undercover operation.
“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury,” Mead said in his opening statement. “Thank God you’re here.”
Mead said his client has close relatives in both Russia and Ukraine and wanted to provide the same level of help to Russian civilians and soldiers. But she knew that supporting her native country — she’s a naturalized U.S. citizen — would lead to her being blacklisted.
Not only was his client entrapped, he said, but she is not guilty. That’s because the government must prove that she disclosed private medical information for malicious harm or personal gain, Mead said.
Toward the end of her second conversation with the FBI special agent, Mead said, his client asked if she was being recorded. Gabrielian, he said, thought that she was dealing with Russian intelligence — and just tried to survive the meeting.
“You don’t say no to the KGB,” said Mead, who used the acronym for the Soviet Union’s secret intelligence service.
That’s a refrain he repeated throughout his presentation.
The FBI special agent — who testified in court while wearing a “light disguise” and using the pseudonym “Lena Simon” — fished for confidential or other information more than a dozen times before Gabrielian mentioned medical records, Mead said. Gabrielian repeatedly stated that she thought the information was useless but tried to appear mildly helpful for the safety of herself and her loved ones, Mead said.
David Walsh-Little, Henry’s attorney, also said his client did not disclose private medical records for malicious harm or personal gain.
“Jamie Henry,” Walsh-Little said in his opening statement, “is innocent of these charges.”
Henry became the first-known active-duty Army officer to come out as transgender in 2015. Walsh-Little said his client uses plural pronouns and is gender-fluid, but for the purposes of the trial, Henry gave permission to be referred to with male pronouns.
Walsh-Little said his client knows about the horrors of war — Henry previously served at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center — and was committed to saving lives. Henry, he said, had even reached out to Doctors Without Borders, a nongovernmental organization that provides humanitarian medical care.
Out of five meetings, Walsh-Little said, his client was present for two of them.
In fact, Henry thought that Gabrielian had called about having a date night in Baltimore. Henry learned after arriving that the two would be meeting with a purported representative of the Russian government, Walsh-Little said.
Walsh-Little said his client was expecting to leave the Army and take a position with Johns Hopkins, and that Henry is an LGBTQ activist — a member of a community that the Russian government oppresses.
“It makes no sense,” Walsh-Little said. “The government’s case makes no sense.”
U.S. District Judge Stephanie Gallagher is presiding over the trial, which will resume on Wednesday.